The Fantastics Live the Jazz Cafe 03/09/11

Mark Norton (Sax) & Sulene Fleming (Vox) Live @ Jazz Cafe


Photo: Courtesy of Giglens – http://www.flickr.com/photos/giglens

With a critically acclaimed sophomore album recently released via UK-based Freestyle Records Ltd and a plethora of country wide and European gig dates behind them, The Fantastics! have built up a well-deserved hard-core following of loyal fans. The diverse musical tastes of all the band members has led to their music emanating as an eclectic fusion of funk, rhythm and blues, jazz, Afro beat, Brazilian, rock, reggae, Latin and numerous other influences. Now with the added cherry on top in the guise of one of the U.K.’s pre-eminent soul songstress’ Sulene Fleming, The Fantastics! have all the bases loaded.
So it was on this September evening that The Fantastics! entered the Jazz Cafe’s infamous platform stage right. “Soul Saviour Stew” kicked off proceedings and then quickly segued in to “The Doctor Is In” lifted from their Mighty Righteous Album. Then it was straight into a cover of Boogaloo Joe Jones’ “Sweetback” the first of the new tracks from their stunning ear friendly new album “All The People,” the incessant and hypnotic funky retro groove provoking ritualised head nodding in the audience. After “Fat Hector” the mood on the vibe changed up into the smooth soulful hypnotic 70s style 2-step groove of “Know No Gods,” Mark Norton’s mellow flute gliding effortlessly over the top of James Smith’s rhythmical drums; Raydn Hunter’s deep baseline; Pete Collison’s staccato lead guitar and Greg Boraman’s tight and on point Hammond organ playing. Nice!


Mark Norton (flute)


Raydn Hunter (bass)
Photo: Courtesy of Giglens – http://www.flickr.com/photos/giglens

The Fantastics!’ distinctive retro feel to their music continued in the guise of “Mushroom Strut,” the lead off track from their new album. Once again it was Mark Norton’s flute that initially took centre stage, like the Pied Piper leading the way for the others to follow. And oh how they followed! Once again Raydn Hunters chunky baseline in perfect sync with James Smith’s steady drum pattern opened the door for Mr Boraman’s freestyle organ solo and Pete Collison’s 70s style guitar riffs.


Greg Boraman (Hammond organ)


Pete Collison (guitar)
Photo: Courtesy of Giglens – http://www.flickr.com/photos/giglens

On a roll the collective then launched into a faithful really working of soul/jazz/blues organist and singer Billy Hawks’ Oh Baby (I believe I’m Losing You). Greg Boraman required no second invitation to emulate one of his major influences and laid down a stone cold groove. Continuing the classic covers the next tune “Love Addict,” originally done by Honey and the Bees led to the entrance of The Fantastics!’ Jewel in the Crown, the sultry Sulene Fleming. Sulene descended to the stage looking resplendent in a stunning off white satin and lace embroidered mid-length dress. The focal point being an eye-catching satin rose trimmed with rhinestones (methinks) situated dead centre in the middle of her waist on a chunky 4 inch belt. Nice!!


Sulene Fleming Live @ Jazz Cafe, London
Photo: Courtesy of Giglens – http://www.flickr.com/photos/giglens

It didn’t take long for Sulene’s magnetic persona and powerful Etta James/Betty Davis style vocals to reel in the audience even further, as she more than did justice to a track she always wanted to cover. With Miss Fleming now in situ, the band segued smoothly into the outstanding first single release from their “All The People” album, “Somewhere…Finally.” The laid back soulful intro of Mark Norton’s saxophone and Mark Clayton’s understated percussion touches set the tone for Sulene’s smouldering and intoxicated vocal delivery. Sulene’s mildly husky yet velvety vocals caressed each and every word of this original but strangely familiar tune – a sure sign of a classic in the making.

As Sulene took her leave from the stage, we were already anticipating her return later in the set. The Jazz Cafe massive’s musical embers were now fully stoked and eager for more. The Fantastics! didn’t disappoint as they launched into their JB’s style retro-funk album title track, “All The People Pt1,” which was sweetly followed by “The Bone Breaker,” another original piece of soulful funk. Up Yours! hidden away as the b-side to the aforementioned “Somewhere…Finally” was the connecting tune to “Cecil’s Slide,” an up-tempo, Brazilian/ Batacuda infused ditty, which employed Mark Clayton’s percussion virtuosity and dexterity to the maximum. It was a pure case of ‘get your whistles out!’ and ‘shake your rump!’ a la Carnival.


Mark Clayton (percussion)


James Smith (drums)
Live @ Jazz Cafe Photo: Courtesy of Giglens – http://www.flickr.com/photos/giglens

T’was the perfect time to welcome back the precious pearl in the oyster aka Sulene Fleming, to give all in attendance goose-bumps with her full on, intense rendition of Gil Scott-Heron’s/Esther Phillips’ “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” ably supported by the tight musicianship of The Fantastics! This time Sulene was not allowed to leave the stage as she continued to front the band, beguiling us with her raw sassiness and feminine charm. The rock tinged “I Breathe” and the southern twang of the forth-coming single release “Cold Case,” completed the show-casing of the new album, the latter tune generously laden with some deep blues harmonica playing courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Mark Norton.


Mark Norton (harmonica)
Jazz Cafe, London Photo: Courtesy of Giglens – http://www.flickr.com/photos/giglens

And so to the climax of the evening with Sulene keeping hold of the reigns as The Fantastics! doffed their imaginary hats once again to James Brown and the JB’s via the last two numbers, “Soul Child” (taken from their 2009 “Mighty Righteous” album feat. Noel Mckoy) and “Give It Up, Turn It Loose,” the latter affording Radyn Hunter the freedom to lay down some more nasty basslines! Sulene Fleming got to winding her waist and shaking her booty on both tracks as The Fantastics! turned up the heat for the final time, bringing the evening to a rousing conclusion.


Sulene Fleming Live @ Jazz Cafe Photo: Courtesy of Giglens – http://www.flickr.com/photos/giglens

The night was indeed a truly “Fantastic!” experience and whilst the new album is an essential addition to your CD collection, nothing can prepare you the full-on, feel good feeling The Fantastics! convey in the live arena. Make sure and catch the show as and when they pop up in Europe over the next year or so.

Michael J Edwards


Raydn Hunter (guitar) & Mark Norton (Sax) Live @ Jazz Cafe Photo: Courtesy of Giglens – http://www.flickr.com/photos/giglens

Essential Albums:
All the People (2011)
Mighty Righteous (2009)

Essential Websites:
http://www.freestylerecords.co.uk/
http://soundcloud.com/freestyle-records/sets/the-fantastics-all-the-people/

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